Mark Bronzino (Kontusion) and Mark “Barney” Greenway (Napalm Death) Just Want a Dignified Existence For All

The friends talk climate change, health care, unions, and more.

Mark Bronzino is one-half of the death metal duo Kontusion; Mark “Barney” Greenway is the vocalist for the UK grindcore pioneers Napalm Death. In light of Kontusion’s debut EP, which was just released in March, the two friends got together to talk about the rise of the far right, climate change, unionization, and much more. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Mark Bronzino: So I know we talked about this briefly before, but I wanted to start it off by talking about the term “woke,” and what it means now.

Barney Greenway: Oh, to be honest, I really don’t know what it fucking means. It just sounded so ridiculous when I first heard it, I just didn’t pay any heed. It’s a very clever construct, actually, because it’s used to attack people who wish for there not to be an unequal world, in whichever part of that you take into consideration. So it’s used to basically discredit them first and foremost, and then to attack them.

Mark: Right.

Barney: So what that then does is it makes people seem like they are a burden on everybody else for trying to upset the balance of things as they are. It’s a clever tactic that has been used by, loosely speaking, conservative elements for a long time. So it actually starts to get people who are sympathetic to making changes to feel like they shouldn’t be a part of the burden, and that they should also agree with people who say, “Oh, it’s just troublemakers,” or this and that and the rest of it. You’d be surprised to get dragged into that stuff, right? That way of thinking. So I absolutely reject it. I think it’s a nonsense term. It’s much like PC, which we also talked about, politically correct. What the fuck does that even mean?

Mark: Yeah, I heard that came from a right wing source.

Barney: Yeah, it was from Rush Limbaugh.

Mark: [Laughs.] Oh, wow.

Barney: I mean, what does it even mean? Break it down, “politically correct” — well, what’s the gauge of politics around it? There isn’t one. That’s part of the reason why it’s nonsensical, is it because it implants politics on top of human issues. So then you can have a dividing line. If you don’t have a political aspect to it, then it’s harder to have a dividing line between people.

Mark: It takes the attention away from the humanity involved. 

Barney: Yeah, that’s exactly what it does. 

Mark: And othering, almost. 

Barney: And implanting politics on the top where it doesn’t need to be. Because what these are, first and foremost, are human issues: lack of housing, lack of food. You know, the fact that some people in this world can get away with offshoring money in all kinds of places that would actually help to pay for schools, and not paying taxes and stuff like that — if we are to have a taxation system. There’s a whole raft of stuff. So I do my best to fight against it. 

Mark: I guess keeping in that trajectory, we’ve seen the rise of the far right in political spheres, like Le Pen in France, like Trumpism here. What do you think we can learn from the fact that that’s happening right now, that the far right is gaining political momentum? 

Barney: But it has always been there. It’s never not been there. That’s the point. It’s just that in this world of media spotlights and stuff, it’s become more pronounced. Not only within the media, but otherwise as well, it’s just become more pronounced. And so, what can we draw from it? Like all things, I believe that it will start to secede a little bit — I mean, it already has in a lot of ways, you know? The whole thing around Trumpism — he’s not even spoken about anymore. Certainly speaking as a person from the UK, you don’t hear nothing about that guy. Apart from the fact that his private social media platform has absolutely tanked. Which I could have told you that before. [Laughs.] So it is in secession, but it will come back again. These things go in cycles eventually. 

But the point is that, while there is a culture of division, while the world is so unequal, the irony is — if you’re going to put it in political terms — you might obviously suggest that the left are the ones that will deal with inequality, but actually the right also equally benefit from inequality. So therefore, underneath all this, what we really have to do is make sure life on this planet is as dignified for everybody. People say, “Oh, that’s impossible.” But a lot of the mechanisms that are in place, the capitalist system — I know it’s an obvious thing, people roll their eyes when you mention that — there’s a lot to do with it. As long as that inequality is enforced, you’re always going to have these issues.

Mark: When there’s money to be made from inequality.

Barney: And there’s some very fucking dangerous people out there who will take advantage of it, you know? The things that we consume every day — we need to stop this global supply chain the way is the way. In countries where manufacturing is heavy and cheap, that people can lose their lives from going to work… When you have those things, populism gets bigger. Like in India, you have a very populist government over there, very Trump-esque, actually, because when you have conditions like that in a country, people are obviously fucking angry, and this is what happens. People start to find a scapegoat, blame other people. In India, you’ve still got the caste system. That has to go, things like that. 

Mark: In India, there was also a very large labor strike last year as well. The farmers strike, which I don’t know as much about politically, but it seemed like a lot of the farmers kind of have Marxist leanings.

Barney: Well, there was an agricultural act coming to India, which you would think, OK, what’s the problem with that? But the problem is, is a vast majority of the country, the infrastructure for farming is still as it was two, three, four hundred years ago. So then, how can you enforce a capitalist quota system on a system that’s not ready for that? That means farmers, if they don’t conform to certain things, they will not be able to — and I’m just talking about the possibility that they could lose their livelihoods. These are people that are already as poor as you could imagine. So all these things are problematic. There has to be quite a sea change in how we do things. Not that it in itself is a great thing, but this whole climate crisis is going to force people to reconsider how things are done. You know, intensive farming that cannot carry on.

Mark: Right. Speaking of of climate change, I wanted to bring up this person Wynn Bruce — they performed self-immolation on Earth Day on the steps of the US Supreme Court to bring to light climate change, essentially. But I noticed in most of the articles that covered his death, they didn’t even mention it. So it’s like, you have people setting themselves on fire and the corporate owned media won’t even relay the message.

Barney: I mean, that’s dedication for you, you know? I think you can either willfully have your eyes open to that stuff or you can willfully have your eyes closed to that stuff. And it’s a real problem. I live in the UK and the weather systems there at the moment are so messed up. We’ve had environmental issues due to weather and different things in the last four to five years that are occurring regularly now that were once in a lifetime before. We have to get away from fossil fuels. I mean, I’m stating the obvious.

Mark: It sounds like that, but here we are still so dependent. I’ve noticed since lockdowns and everything, there’s less trains. We’ve become more dependent on fossil fuels.

Barney: But the weird the thing is, there was a conversation in England when the lockdown stuff was going on, this great big gushing, “Yeah, we’re not going to go back to how it was, we’re going to allow for rehabilitation of certain lands, we’re going to not do this as much and not do that as much.” And of course, it looks to me, at least, as though that’s been forgotten.

Mark: Right. Boris Johnson is where on this issue? [Laughs.] 

Barney: [ Laughs.] I’m not conservative by any stretch of the imagination, so I have no truck with people that serve only those with the power and the resources, but I will say that they are pushing further than other countries are. The UK is for sure, cannot deny that our sustainable energy mix in the UK is a lot higher than most other places in the world. But it’s not enough. We can actually do more in the UK. I mean, I could give that guy a kicking, a verbal kicking. But what’s the point? 

Mark: Yeah. We’ve obviously covered a couple of things on the negative side, so I wanted to ask, what are some groups and some organizations that you think are doing good work?

Barney: Well, a smaller thing, and very UK-centric I suppose, but Hunt Saboteurs — you know, to try and monitor hunting in the UK countryside. Because hunting for the most part is illegal in the UK, but hey do allow licenses for certain times of year, certain animals. Fox hunting, which is a sport, doesn’t serve any purpose, any ecological purpose. It was banned a few years ago, and then they allowed something called trial hunting, which is when you have a scented lure that’s dragged and the hounds can follow that. If anybody knows about fox hunting, it’s basically the pursuit of a fox across usually the countryside. It’s fucking inhumane. It’s been banned, but they get around it still. So what they do is, they take the lures and the hounds are with them, so they’ll conveniently take them where there’s known to be fox populations. So then, what are fox hounds going to do? They’re going to go into the fox holes and get the cubs. Even though there’s a lure, if they smell foxes in the area, they’re going to go after the after those rather than the lure. 

So hunt organizations have been trying to get around the loopholes, so the hunt saboteurs actively monitor and sabotage the hunts. They don’t use violence unless they have to defend themselves. Which hunters usually have got a lot of fucking heavies with them. I’ve sabbed myself in the past, so I know how it can get. It’s fucking scary. Because some of these people, away from cameras, they’re not afraid. They will hit you with fucking sticks, kick you from the horses and stuff like that. So it gets pretty wild, but it’s necessary.

Mark: Wow.

Barney: There’s a really good, quite mainstream organization called Surfers Against Sewage. We have a real problem in the UK — I’m sure the US does, too — with the water companies dumping overflowed sewage into the rivers, and then goes into the sea. Despite the fact they’ve been warned about these leaks a million fucking times, the legislation is so weak that there are loopholes to get through. The problem is that our rivers in the UK are becoming really, really polluted. Swimmers are getting sick from the water. So if your water supply is not good, water is one of the fundamental pillars of survival…

Mark: There’s groups in the US like Indigenous water defenders, they do a lot of really good work. Especially in the face of the massive amounts of money going towards the destruction of resources and things like that. Another big one here that I thought was cool is the Amazon Union. It’s the union versus Jeff Bezos — all the influence in the world.

Barney: “Oh, we could look after you, you don’t need unions.”

Mark: They did it all by themselves, ignored by all political parties — the Democrats didn’t care at all. They did it themselves and now it’s spreading. They have something similar with Starbucks as well.

Barney: They unionized in the UK as well. 

Mark: Oh, awesome. Yeah, I think a big wave of unionization going on now.

Barney: It’s fantastic. I don’t know if you know, but I’m a union guy. I was a union rep at one point. I’ll always stand for unions. Without unions, working people don’t have a leg to stand on against big corporate power.

Mark: Yeah. They have a lot of influence and a lot of money. The only thing you could do is have solidarity.

Barney: Yeah, the only thing you do is have representation. If you ain’t got that of your own, you ain’t getting anywhere really. Unless you’re very savvy and have got lawyers or something like that, and who has?

Mark: I also wanted to give a shout out to the local Jersey Shore Food Not Bombs Collective. They’re out there every Sunday giving away groceries. It’s good stuff like fresh produce, all vegan. They also do clothing, hot meals every week. It’s really cool. 

Barney: I will say this though — it’s fantastic work they’re doing, but it should not be this way, that it takes benefit organizations to feed people. This is not fucking right. If we’re going to have statehood and countries in this world, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s the absolute responsibility of that country to look after its citizens. That’s already written into the Constitution, I think. And though we don’t have a constitution in the UK, it is a common understanding. I think the Magna Carta says something that citizens deserve the right to life and liberty or whatever.

Mark: Now they say that with “the pursuit of happiness,” happiness means property. So now they’re saying it’s the pursuit of property. 

Barney: It’s absolutely not that. Because if you don’t have the fundamentals which come before that, then you don’t have a world to live in. basically. I would follow on with health care — I think it’s fucking batshit crazy that Americans don’t have a universal health care system for this size of a country. The fact that private companies are allowed to dictate the measure of people living and dying is just beyond me.

Mark: Yeah, it’s a mess.

Barney: I do find it funny when there’s certain groups of people in America who take it upon themselves to mock our national health system in the UK. How little they fucking know. And again, going back to the power of influence, when you see people on these marches in DC that says no to socialism, no universal health care system, those people, I would suggest, are the very people who would benefit from universal health care. I can’t speak highly enough of a health care system. Yeah, sure, it has its issues. What doesn’t? But I would go so far as to say there are there are people in my family who would not be alive if it was not for National Health Service. It’s really that simple.

Mark: Over here, people are just going broke. You get sick or you need a surgery, it’s thousands and thousands of dollars.

Barney: How is it that an insurance company can determine through some fucking legal snake trail that pre-existing condition that you had 35 years ago that has no relation to what you’re actually going through right now can somehow put a block on the treatment that you need? The mind boggles.

Mark: Yeah, I mean, we’re here living in it. 

Barney: How these companies are not legislated, so they can just do what they want — it’s just carte blanche to behave.

Mark: The dollar is king, and that’s it. Getting people healthy is not a priority at all.

Barney: If you want a good collective of people on a big scale, keep them healthy. 

Mark: We also pay more — health care costs are higher, we’re wasting money. It’s not even an efficient system.

Barney: That’s the funny thing. People from outside the UK are critical of a national health care system or the taxes, but actually, if you’re in a fee-paying country, you’re paying more than what you would in taxation.

Mark: Way, way more. Any specialized procedure, you have to see a specialist. Like anesthesia — thousands of dollars.

Barney: A few years ago, as I always do every fucking year or two, I broke my hand.

Mark: I was there! You fell on the ice. Buffalo?

Barney: Yeah. But if you remember, I was in Canada when I got treated, going across the border. All I’m saying is, health care should be free for everybody. That being said, by comparison, in Canada, I got x-rays, a doctor’s attention, pills for the pain, a cast, all the bits for $110 Canadian.

Mark: Wow. [Laughs.] Good thing we were in Canada, that would have been bad.

Barney: And it was the one year when I forgotten to renew my travel insurance. Bad move.  Luckily, I’ve never forgotten after that, as you might imagine. Because that probably could have bankrupted me if I had been in the US.

Mark: Yeah. So this is more of a performance question, but what is your reaction in instances when, say, you’re performing in front of a crowd and they’re yelling or whatever, saying that they don’t want any political or protest content? I’m sure that has happened a million times. How do you take that?

Barney: I don’t take it as anything, to be honest. They’ve got the right to express that, you know what I mean? But I’ll just get on with what I’ve got to do. It’s really that simple. It’s my wish for Napalm to be a band of ideas as well as the music. The two go hand-in-hand with Napalm Death, they’re inseparable as far as I’m concerned. I think people generally might agree with that.

Mark: The new EP, even, there’s a lot of new ideas and stuff.

Barney: I have no negative feelings towards people like that. They’ve absolutely got the right to express their opinion. And even if it might not be that — even if it might be a criticism of the things that I say, that’s fine. I’m not there to shock people. I’m actually there for the opposite reason, to hopefully opens minds a little bit. It’s not about me. I’m not the great fucking educator, but at least I can express my ideas, you know?

Mark: That’s a very cool way of putting it.

Barney: Hey, man, it’s not for me to fucking set everybody’s agenda. But all I can do is suggest that humanity and other associated things, like dignified existence for all sentient beings, that that to me is kind of important.

Mark: Part of that is having your own opinions, and expressing them if you need to. That’s the core of it, in a way.

(Photo Credit: right, Kevin Estrada)

Mark Bronzino is one-half of the death metal duo Kontusion. Kontusion’s debut EP is out now.